NBA Combine Media Availability Interviews May 29, 2009
[Read Full Article] NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/3/09 March 3, 2009 Although on paper it may appear that James Johnson is having a similar season to his freshman campaign, when digging deeper into his performance, that initial impression couldn’t be any further from the truth.
The leading scorer on a bad team that went 17-13 last season, Johnson is now the #2 option on one of the best teams in college basketball. While his scoring rate is slightly down, Johnson’s field goal percentage has climbed from 48.7 to 54%, as he’s taking less 3-pointers and doing a much better job scoring inside the arc. His role is smaller this year but he’s contributing much more with his all-around game, doubling his assists while cutting down on his turnovers, and being far more solid on the defensive end. Considering the many different ways in which he helps his team, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Johnson one of the most versatile players in the country these days.
Offensively, Johnson has shown flashes of a complete repertoire this season. His ball-handling skills look much improved, as you regularly see him grabbing rebounds and taking the ball smoothly coast to coast, and he’s become quite a lethal threat creating his own shot in the half-court as well. Johnson has very unique timing on his drives as discussed in the past (see prior reports), and he’s just as effective creating and finishing with his left hand as he is with his natural right—something that is pretty rare at the collegiate level at his size.
Johnson’s ability to face-up and attack his man off the dribble makes him a terrific mismatch threat on the perimeter, and watching him utilize his outstanding footwork and pivot moves in the post, it’s hard not to come away impressed with his scoring and overall basketball instincts. He has great hands and outstanding touch with either hand around the basket, sometimes flicking up pretty floaters around the rim, and looks very comfortable at times operating with his back to the basket as well.
Although his 3-point shot has not fallen at a very good rate (he’s just 17/57, or 30%), Johnson’s mid-range pull-up jumper has become a very effective weapon this season, particularly off one dribble after getting his defender in the air with a pump-fake. On the catch and shoot, despite showing nice mechanics, Johnson has often appeared rushed. He still needs to work on his range it appears, as well as his free throw shooting—where he hits just 70%.
While Johnson can score in a wide variety of ways, he is also a fairly solid passer as well. He sees the floor well and regularly makes heady passes right into the post for easy baskets, clearly possessing an advanced feel for the game. Johnson’s knack for making plays around the ball also extends to the offensive glass, where he is not quite as prolific as he was last season, but is still pretty adept.
Johnson’s biggest issue right now might be the lack of focus he shows at times—making some poor decisions at times with the ball, but also making costly fundamental mistakes as well. He tries to do too much from the perimeter on a few possessions every game, over-handling the ball, being somewhat turnover prone, and settling for bad shots. He isn’t as solid as you’d hope either, forgetting to box out his man in crucial moments, being late to rotate defensively, and generally being inconsistent from game to game and often possession to possession. Johnson seems like the kind of guy who needs special attention from the coaching staff to make sure they’re getting (and will get) 100% out of him at all times, although this could be something that improves with added maturity.
Defensively, Johnson is a mixed bag, but seems to be much improved from last season, partially due to his much improved physique. He puts a pretty solid effort in on this end of the floor, doing a good job trying to stay in front of his man on the perimeter, utilizing his height and length very effectively, and being especially impressive recovering into the paint after being beat—sometimes coming up with a rejection in the process. Johnson is a real stat-stuffer, getting plenty of blocks, steals and rebounds—a product of his increased activity level this season, as well as his natural timing and instincts—which are superb. You’ll still see him losing his focus on this end at times, for instance not fighting through a screen or getting caught flat-footed while a smaller player blows by him—his lateral quickness is average as mentioned in the past—but he seems to be getting better in this area, and should continue to improve as his career moves on.
All in all, Johnson is one of the more unique prospects in this draft—while not a prototypical small forward, he’s got more than enough tools to get by on the perimeter, and he can hurt the opposition quite a bit in his own right. It will be interesting to see where teams have Johnson rated on their board, as won’t fit in on quite any team, but should be able to carve out a solid niche. Having turned 22 just a few weeks ago—despite being a sophomore—the indications are that Johnson is likely to declare for this upcoming draft, particularly if he has a strong showing in the NCAA tournament. [Read Full Article] Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Two: #6-10) October 12, 2008 Flying under the radar amidst his very strong freshman class, James Johnson had a very good first season for Wake Forest, scoring nearly 15 points per game, pulling in 8 rebounds per game, and showing a nice assortment of skills to build upon. The 6’8 combo forward won’t blow you away with explosiveness, vertically or with his first step, but he’s a good athlete regardless, excelling with his mobility, fluidity, and coordination.
Attacking the basket, Johnson excels most catching and attacking from the wing, as his ball-handling usually won’t overwhelm defenders away in space. He’s a very rangy player, making long strides with the ball, and showing the ability to cover large amounts of ground when he goes to his spin move, which he excels with. He’ll occasionally mix in a crossover, but for the most part he relies on his long strides in combination with his excellent balance and coordination, allowing him to step in directions many other players cannot. Despite his physical tools, he runs into some problems at times, not always showing the greatest awareness or timing, leading to situations where he’ll look awkward, not getting past his man in the lane, and forcing up a tough shot. These situations also lead to turnovers on occasion, as he commits 2.6 per game.
At the basket, Johnson shows nice ability to adjust with his length and size, and he’s comfortable switching hands with the ball, capable of finishing with either. His touch around the rim is pretty good, but he forces shots at times. He relies on a floater in the lane fairly frequently, though his success rate with it is not consistent. Without the ball, Johnson does a good job of finding his way to the rim to get open, doing so both in the halfcourt and transition, doing nice work catching and finishing there.
One area Johnson certainly has room for improvement in is his jump shot, which he’s shown flashes of success with so far. He’s got the basic foundation of good shooting form, but he has some problems with inconsistencies, and definitely could use some work. A lot of his shots just look very awkward at times, where he’ll do things like push the ball forward, not bend his knees, or fade away, leading to some bad misses. He really has only shown success spotting up, not looking very good off the dribble, while his success as a spot-up shooter is still wildly inconsistent, in part due to poor decision-making.
Defensively, Johnson mostly guards power forwards, despite playing like a small forward on offense. When tested laterally, he hasn’t looked great, not showing the best foot speed or fundamental form, often giving up space to compensate. Losing some weight could help him here, to get him at a more ideal weight to play on the wing.
Johnson has shown a lot of nice flashes already this early in his career, and appears to have a lot of potential if he puts in the work and improves on his decision-making. Barring a strong leap in multiple areas of his game this season, Johnson will likely be best served staying in school for another season, but declaring this season certainly isn’t out of the picture, especially if he can make some noticeable strides. While combo-forwards have achieved a lot more success lately in the NBA, Johnson’s potential defensive matchup problems could concern scouts, but the first round isn’t out of the picture if he can show more progress in his game. [Read Full Article] NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/28/08-- Part Two February 29, 2008 Also very much deserving of recognition as an intriguing prospect for the future amongst the endless sea of extremely productive freshman is Wake Forest forward James Johnson, the 15th best scorer in this class so far, although quite a bit older than any freshman not named Davon Jefferson, at 21 years old.
We’re talking about a 6-8 combo forward with a big body, long arms, and smooth athleticism—very fluid, with nice timing and body control. The son of a World Champion Kickboxer, and a black belt in Karate himself, Johnson has terrific balance and coordination that clearly stems from his background in Martial Arts. He only started playing basketball in the 8th grade, and was used mostly as a guard throughout high school. Academic issues are apparently the reason he’s 2-2 ˝ years older than most players in his class.
Offensively, Johnson looks most comfortable facing the basket, where he shows a great deal of talent taking his man off the dribble and attacking the rim. He has a good first step, utilizing shot-fakes nicely and showing a nice crossover, crafty footwork and some solid ball-handling skills in a straight line to beat his man and make his way to the rim. Once he gets there, his excellent strength and body control helps him out a great deal, but he also has terrific touch as a finisher, being able to throw in a quick spin move to gain himself even more space if needed—which is not an easy move for a player his size. It’s pretty clear that we’re talking about a player with some very advanced scoring instincts, even if he could still stand to polish up his ball-handling skills even more, particularly his ability to change directions on the fly and utilize the type of advanced moves that he’ll need to effectively create shots at the next level as a small forward.
Johnson is also pretty effective running the floor in transition, as well as moving off the ball and making sharp cuts to the rim, where his terrific hands make a very reliable target for Wake Forest’s guards. He’s also an excellent offensive rebounder, ranked 4th amongst all freshmen in that category this season.
Johnson’s perimeter stroke shows some promise, even off the dribble on rare occasions, but his incredibly poor shot-selection destroys any chances he might have of putting up decent shooting numbers here. He still forces the issue and looks a bit out of control at times, especially with his dribble, and has taken more shots than anyone else on the team this year so far. He has no shame whatsoever in jacking up shots early in the shot clock from well beyond the 3-point line, which is somewhat concerning. He is shooting much better in ACC play (16-41 or 39%, compared with 10-46 or 22% in out of conference games)—hopefully a sign that he’s adjusting his game accordingly. Johnson would do well to develop his back to basket game a bit in order to be able to better take advantage of mismatch situations that might occur. He doesn’t have much in the ways of post moves or a left hand at this point. His free throw shooting could also improve.
It’s still not entirely clear what Johnson’s natural position will be at the next level, as he seems to have some intriguing perimeter skills, but his very thick frame and defensive ability leave some question marks about his ability to make the full-time transition to playing out on the wing. His lateral quickness is tough to really gauge at the power forward position, as he doesn’t look great out on the perimeter hedging screens and trying to stay in front of quicker forwards. He has a tendency to coast at times, and his fundamentals do not appear to be the best, displaying average awareness and regularly biting on fakes—but his instincts, footwork, length and timing do leave some room for optimism for the future, particularly if he can shed the 20 or so extra pounds he is currently unnecessarily carrying on his frame. He used to be a lot skinnier apparently, but decided to put on some bulk to better help him compete in the post in the ACC. It appears that he could improve his quickness substantially if he decided to take off that extra weight.
Wake Forest is in an interesting situation, as they have a terrific recruiting class coming in this summer, headlined by 6-8 McDonald’s All-American combo forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The two seem to have quite a few similarities, and it will be interesting to see how and if they will be able to play together, and in what capacity, considering that both players view themselves as small forwards. Since Johnson is already 21 years old, he’s going to have a decision to make at some point regarding his NBA future, as by the time he’s a senior, his upside might not be considered as intriguing to scouts at age 24. He obviously still has a long ways to go on his all-around game, though. [Read Full Article] Roe Outlasts Holiday In Thriller On ESPN2 December 10, 2007 Johnson was the only big man that Campbell Hall had to combat the team of Roe and Pritchard. He displayed very nice hands, a great body, and super toughness for a player so young. The sophomore played very hard in the paint, showing promise to be a nice role player at the high major level down the road. Not overly skilled, his game basically predicates off of his athleticism and length. There is plenty of time before we even begin to consider speaking of Johnson as a potential draft prospect, but the tough play that he showed against Roe and Pritchard definitely deserves a mention. [Read Full Article]